Released: June, 1981
Lineup: Sioux, Steve Severin (bass), John McGeoch (guitar), Budgie (drums)

Tracklist:
Side 1:
Spellbound
Into the Light
Arabian Knights
Halloween
Monitor

Side 2:
Night Shift
Sin In My Heart
Head Cut
Voodoo Dolly

Released just 10 months after Kaleidoscope, Nigel Gray is still at the helm.
Juju was preceded by the Spellbound single in May. Arabian Knights was released as a single in July.

After the tour for Kaleidoscope, this is the first album by this incarnation of the Banshees as a tested unit. Musically it’s their most cohesive set yet. The songs are individually different while each obviously contributes to a whole vision. Interestingly the album seems built around Budgie’s percussion and McGeoch’s guitar. Severin’s bass tends to be really low in the mix. (This may be a by-product of listening to the Spotify recording on earbuds, as well.)

And as I delve into the lyrics, which never really sunk in, the repeated themes of death and murder and violent sex are more surprising than I expected them to be. I listened to this album repeatedly in my youth, but never took that dive into what Siouxsie was actually singing about.

Musically, it’s anchored by a continuously maintained eastern atmosphere. This is more obvious on side one, especially on Arabian Knights, but each song feeds on that feeling. The chord changes that anchor Into The Light are another example. Arabian Knights features a minor key thing that feels like it’s being played from under water. I can’t identify what (I think) McGeoch is doing there. The finger cymbals also contribute.

Album opener, Spellbound, which was always one of my favourites, is a pop masterpiece on the one hand, but a horror show on the other. It’s similar in theme to previous work that explored the madness inherent in the family structure. Earlier, Siouxsie might have spun it on the axis of the child, but here she uses the line ‘And when your elders forget to say their prayers / take them by the legs, and throw them down the stairs’ as a counterpoint to the chorus’s ‘Following the footsteps of a rag doll dance / we are entranced.’ On the one hand, it’s revenge (possibly), but balanced by the insanity of childhood.

Halloween, which made onto many of my goth era’s mix tapes, wouldn’t have been out of place on any of the first three albums, but again, McGeoch’s guitar work separates it especially from the first lineup of the band. The toms and vibraslap that anchor the chorus are especially infectious.

Side one closes with Monitor, which I’ve always found to be amongst the strangest of the band’s songs. Musically it’s got this driving rhythm that doesn’t really resemble anything else in the post-punk or goth canon. At five and half minutes, it’s still beat in length by Night Shift and Voodoo Dolly on side 2. There’s something sweet in the fact that they took the time to give the songs the room they need to breathe and express what each one needs to.

Into The Light probably has lyrical depths I’m not plumbing but the song balances on repetitions of the rhymes light, white, sight, night, right. The rhythms pull the listener in as if through an aural spinning spiral. This is similar to the repeating motifs in Voodoo Dolly at the end of the album.

Arabian Nights combines images of oil spills, harems, and the repetition of I heard a rumour / what have you done to her. I’m not sure whether the music triumphs over the lyrics or the repetition is the point. Halloween pulls us again into the arena where the adult addresses the child who was:
The carefree days are distant now /I wear my memories like a shroud
I try to speak, but words collapse / Echoing, echoing “Trick or treat”

Monitor plays with the imagery of violence, possibly of a snuff film, pulling us into its horror:
And we shook with excitement / Then the victim stared up
Looked strangely at the screen / As if her pain was our fault.
Closing out side one with this kind of indictment, there was nothing left to do but flip it over and hear what came next.

Night Shift starts with those slow eastern chords and when Siouxsie enters, it’s in the style of a nursery rhyme. That she’s singing of someone visiting a morgue to commit acts of necrophilia (My night shift sisters / with your nightly visitor), well, we’re in the realm of the gothic after all. Musically, it’s crazy noise wrapped around Siouxsie’s disturbingly restrained vocals.

Sin In My Heart opens with finger-picked rhythms punctuated once with the sound of breaking glass. The minimal lyrics, again about sex, are mostly a placeholder for Budgie to wrap his rolling beats around.

Head Cut. Yeah. I want to take this severed head back to my house and keep it to make up and attract flies. And cook? Possibly. And astoundingly danceable all the same.

And the whole circus closes with mini-epic Voodoo Dolly. The singer addresses someone under the thrall of someone or something (She’s such an ugly little dolly / and she’s making you look very silly…you get paralyzed with her fear). The story part of the song evolves into a crazy repetition of the words listen, listen, listen, to your fear. Again, that hypnotic repetition draws you in. It’s an appropriate way to close the album.

While I’ve got great love for the first three albums (and, really, for most of the catalogue), those are 3 or 3 1/2 star albums. I give Juju five stars.

Next up: Wild Things!

In response to my last post on the COVID-19 crisis, a friend responded with two points which I may be about to misrepresent. First, that the recession caused by ‘rich old-world leaders’ to save themselves and their cohort is artificially generated. Second, that AIDS and COVID-19 deaths in the west are a small fraction of the deaths by suicide and tuberculosis.

I disagree that the recession is an artificially generated result of keeping the rich alive. It’s more a by-product of the mishandling of the crisis. Had measures been taken in the US and the non-Italy parts of Europe to identify and isolate victims, and to ramp up the production of PPE for hospital staff, we wouldn’t have nearly so severe a crisis in terms of hospital space and in terms of the dangers hospital staff are (still!) working under.

Also: New Yorker: What Lessons Does the AIDS Crisis Offer for the Coronavirus Pandemic?

Part of the difference between the crisis in the west and the ongoing disaster of TB and AIDS elsewhere is the racism associated with most of the world’s AIDS and TB cases – these aren’t white people or first world people. Part of it is that hospital systems in the west are being overrun by COVID-19 cases and they came up very quickly, as I noted in the previous entry. We’ve hit the number of COVID-19 cases in three months in the US that AIDS took 20 years to hit.

Oh, here’s a difference: It’s very very easy to catch COVID-19. For consenting adults, AIDS is difficult to catch. Certain precautions were worked out very early on that if followed make it very difficult to catch or transmit HIV. Condoms and clean needles do the trick most of the time. Yes, I’m aware of the failure rates. That’s not the point I’m making. (In places where ‘have sex with a virgin’ is the advice given to people with AIDS, then you have a different scenario. Note the ‘consenting adults’ wording above.)

What is the point I’m making here? Ten HIV+ people who have casual contact with people in daily life over the course of a week will not transmit HIV to any of them (the scaremongering of the time notwithstanding). Ten COVID-19 carriers who have casual contact with people over the course of a week may transmit it to a hundred. It’s very easy to catch and very difficult to treat. It’s not necessarily about the numbers who will die of COVID-19. We don’t know what recovery looks like. Or reinfection. Or what a second or third wave will do to an already stressed population and medical infrastructure.

The two diseases come up together partly because the US government’s mishandling of the AIDS crisis in the 80s is writ very large in their mishandling of the current crisis. Part of it has to do with honesty and candor. Part of the issue today has to do with sheer greed.

A week or so ago, Lawrence O’Donnell on The Last Word made reference to the increasing size of the obituaries sections of the Boston Globe and papers in New Orleans (transcript April 20, 2020). I was on a walk listening and had this overwhelming memory of the Bay Area Reporter in the 80s. The Reporter was a free gay weekly newspaper that I picked up most weeks. I moved to San Francisco in 1985 and spent a fair amount of time in the Castro District. Even though I didn’t know the people in BAR’s obituaries pages, I read them all the time. At the time gay men didn’t much die of old age. The cohort that made up those pages weren’t that much older than I was, though I didn’t realize then how close 35 or 40 was to 20 or 25. I almost burst into tears on the street with that memory.

Just as we didn’t know in 1987 or ‘88 how large the NAMES Project quilt would grow to be, we don’t know how many lives this pandemic will cost. But the outlook is far more daunting than it should have been. Enough people are talking about the lack of leadership in this regard that I don’t need to add to the sound and the fury today. At the moment, however we’re at 2.9 million confirmed cases worldwide and 940,000 in the US, where the curve does not seem to be flattening.

Released: August, 1980
Lineup: Sioux, Steve Severin (bass), John McGeoch (guitar), Budgie (drums)

Tracklist:
Side 1:
Happy House
Tenant
Trophy
Hybrid
Clockface
Lunar Camel

Side 2:
Christine
Desert Kisses
Red Light
Paradise Place
Skin

Recorded in 1980 with Nigel Gray, who produced the first two Police albums, and would shortly go on to produce the third, Kaleidoscope is a nearly perfect pop album. It’s more interesting and more diverse, and has a more mature sound than that heard on the first two albums. The two singles from the album, side openers Happy House and Christine were released in March and May. Musically the sound is tight and clean with a greater focus on dynamics than on grabbing the listener by the collar. And it doesn’t sound like anything else from the period, either.

A lot of this is down to the skills of guitarist John McGeoch. There are some musicians who might point to four albums over the course of an entire career and say, ‘Yeah, those were real high points. I got what I was after.’ McGeoch recorded four such in 1980. He left Magazine after recording their third, The Correct Use of Soap; He also provided most of the guitar on Generation X’s Kiss Me Deadly, and Visage’s debut (alongside Magazine colleague Dave Formula and Midge Ure and Billy Currie who would go on to form Ultravox) before Kaleidoscope.

New drummer Budgie, who had taken over for Kenny Morris for the Join Hands tour, stayed with the Banshees until they broke up in 1996. Previously he’d played with Liverpool bands the Spitfire Boys (with Paul Rutherford, later of Frankie Goes to Hollywood, and Pete Wylie, later of the Mighty Wah), Big In Japan (with Bill Drummond, later of The KLF, Holly Johnson, later of Frankie Goes To Hollywood, and Ian Broudie of The Lightning Seeds), and played on the Slits’ debut album Cut (including the single Typical Girls).

I bring all this history in to suggest that the new additions to the lineup (who would also record the next two albums, before changing guitarists twice more) brought a certain experience and firepower, and the results show.

Side 1 is smoother listening than side 2, and there seems to have been a real effort at a thematic organization with the music speaking directly to the lyrical content.

Some songs, such as Lunar Camel and Red Light retain the synth/drum machine arrangements of the original demos and seem too sparse. I think this adds to the variety of the album’s color (as hinted in the title).

Happy House, which always felt to me like a report from inside an asylum, describes the differences between the public personas of nuclear family members and the insanity behind closed doors. This might still be a report from inside the asylum.

Tenant is a thematically logical extension of Happy House wherein the subject is trapped inside. ‘we crawl into corners — ignore any callers… Still they cling to the walls and knock on our doors… But they have eyes at the keyholes and ears at the walls.
The madness inherent in the nuclear family envelopes any who find no means of escape.

Trophy is about those mementos of a successful youth which we hang, but no longer live up to.

Hybrid is my favourite track on side one. While musically more complex than most of the songs on the album (the exception being Paradise Place, my favourite track on side 2 and for the same reason), it’s lyrically really obscure in a way the other songs aren’t. I like the tone poetry of it. The more I read the words, the more it seems to reflect a relationship between two people who were friends but aren’t anymore due to those things that break people up, but are hard to explain…

When you walked through the door / Marked “enter if you dare”
Reasoned with a friend marked “do not bend” / Bit on that finger marked “handle with care”

It’s more emotionally complex than I expected, even though I’ve been listening to this album for a long time.

The wordless Clockface and Lunar Camel, which seems to be about just what the title says, but I’m not sure. round out side one.

https://youtu.be/uktcCvhRGXA

The single Christine, about a woman with (what was then called) multiple personality disorder, opens side two. Danceable and strange, it flows into the rest of the album, but is somewhat apart from it thematically. Desert Kisses has this gorgeous layered feel, in which the guitar effects and bass provide an almost psychedelic backdrop for Sioux’s lyrics of (possibly) ship wreck and sun stroked hallucination. Red Light pulls us back into the present and the modern with the vocals played only against synths, drum machines, and samples of a camera taking photos. This is appropriate to lyrics about a pornographic photo shoot. There’s a certain psychedelia to Paradise Place as well as we hear disjointed lyrics describing, a plastic surgeon’s practice (You can hide your genetics under drastic cosmetics). The original LP closed with the double-time percussion of Skin, which describes wearing fur and leather with a certain ambivalence (cover me with skin / accuse me of sin). It’s an odd closer, but fits nicely, especially with the two songs that precede it.

Next up: Juju

Karl Marx was being somewhat reductionist when he said that history repeats itself, first and tragedy, then as farce. And I won’t be the first person to suggest that the Corvid-19 tragedy in the US is a repeat of the AIDS crisis of the 1980s. The earlier was (for those of us in the West) a great tragedy, and what’s affecting us now surely isn’t farce – it’s a tragedy on a larger, faster scale. One of the reasons it’s such a tragedy is that many people learned from the AIDS crisis, President Trump just isn’t one of them.

This probably isn’t the first time I’ve mentioned on this blog the travesty of the Reagan administration in not acknowledging the toll AIDS was taking on a couple of communities in the United States, even when it took the life of his friend Rock Hudson. He refused even to name the disease until well into his second term. That the hardest hit communities were the gays and the intravenous drug users might have had something to do with this. I initially wrote that Reagan was handily reelected even with ACT-UP protests in the capital, but ACT-UP wasn’t formed until 1987. As long as the communities were demonized, though, there was no need to worry. It didn’t hurt Reagan that his opponent in ‘84 was the relatively uncharismatic Walter Mondale.

But the fact is that over the first 20 years of the epidemic, 774,467 people in the US were diagnosed with HIV. 448,060 died of its related ailments. (HIV is still the cause of approximately 1 million deaths per year, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia.)

The disease wasn’t discussed in US political circles, except in reference to the innocent victims. Remember the Ryan White Act? Innocent meaning not gay, not a drug user. Comics used it as a punch line. Sometimes the entertainment industry stepped up (Philadelphia), generally not. But eventually there was movement in the research and the disease became less of a death sentence, at least in the West. Africa? Still a different story. Standard Precautions also evolved out of the AIDS epidemic. Previously there had been precautions associated with whatever diagnosed illness the patient presented with. First Universal Precautions (1986 or so), which referred specifically to blood and blood-related bodily fluids, and then Standard Precautions superseded those with a set of practices for all those who had patient (and especially body fluid) contact and weren’t dependent on the patient presenting symptoms. When I was working in healthcare in the 90s (as a secretary in home health for a major HMO), I had to be familiar with these, even though it wasn’t in my daily routine to practice them.

Read that WHO doc on standard precautions, or this one from the CDC. That’s okay. I’ll wait.

Did you note the bits about cough safety and hand washing? Yeah, those ring bells because we’re coughing into our elbows now and washing our hands eighteen times a day. What about PPE, sterilization, and infection prevention? Yeah. We’ve had rules in place about those things for decades.

Which brings us to the current repetition.

We know just about when this outbreak came to the US. And we’ve listened to the president and his cohort lie, cheat, steal, brag, and generally screw over those most in need: those suffering from this dreadful flu and the health professionals doing their utmost to help those patients. If the AIDS crisis was itself a tragedy, what can we say about the sheer numbers of this pandemic and the madness of the federal response?

In United States of America, from Jan 20 to 2:00am CEST, 15 April 2020, there have been 578,268 confirmed cases of COVID-19 with 23,476 deaths. (https://covid19.who.int/region/amro/country/us)

I’m not really sure how to address this. In less than a week, we will see the number of cases of COVID-19 in the US in three months exceed the number of AIDS cases recorded in 20 years. And we knew how to prevent the outbreak, or at least lessen its effects, and we knew what was needed to safely take care of those suffering. (In fairness, we knew how to do those things relatively early on in the AIDS crisis, too.) And we didn’t. Not only were we as a nation unable to meet this crisis in a unified way, we were undermined from the outset by the avarice of those who should have been setting sane policy.

In Illness as Metaphor, Susan Sontag discusses the different ways in which tuberculosis and cancer were treated by the medical profession and by family members of those suffering those diseases. TB had an odd romance about it, but in both cases, even the mention of the disease was thought to add another burden to the patient. One of several dozen key points she makes is that, ‘All this lying to and by cancer patients is a measure of how much harder it has become in advanced industrial societies to come to terms with death. (Ch. 1)’

This speaks volumes to how much we as a society really want to believe that getting back to normal, opening the markets, and so forth is preferable to addressing the massive numbers of suffering on our doorsteps. I’ll be honest, I’ve only finished two chapters of Illness and haven’t gotten to the second volume, AIDS and Its Metaphors. But I think Sontag will have a lot to say that speaks to our current condition.

The main reason I’m bringing Sontag’s points into this discussion is that we don’t have the time to be either romantic or blithely quiet about COVID-19. We should be studying and learning and financing the science and the health to get to the other side of this. And doing the work to protect one another. But instead we have the anti-science coming out of the White House and folks like the protesters in Michigan demanding society be reopened so they can shop and have their hair done.

I grieve.

My best beloved reads the Economist every week, and occasionally I’ll read an article or two as well. She’s noted to me that periodicals like the Economist, the Financial Times and the Wall Street Journal are written for people with an interest in the proliferation of money. As such they’re (historically) neither right-wing nor left-wing. Save for the elephant in the room, of course.

I was rereading a column from last June from the Economist’s ‘Bartleby Blog’. On the web site, this blog is subtitled ‘Thoughts on management and the world of work, in the spirit of the “scrivener” of Herman Melville’s 1853 novel’. This alone is problematic for a number of reasons:

  • Bartleby the Scrivener is a short story, not a novel.
  • The titular character of Bartleby the Scrivener would rather starve than work. His catch phrase is ‘I would prefer not to.’ He utters this phrase whenever his boss or others ask him to do something.
  • It seems that whoever named the blog took note of Bartleby’s initial burst of hard work, not the fact that by the end of the story, he’s been evicted, arrested, and starves in the Tombs, Manhattan’s municipal jail.

With all of this in mind, I point you to the June 29th edition of the blog in which the writer discusses the differences between American and European working hours and vacation habits.

First point: In 1979, the average worker in the US and Europe put in about 38.2 hours per week. Later measurements diverge. By 2000, the US worker was putting in 39.4 hours. This fell to 38.6 hours in 2016.

Second point: European and US workers differ in the amount of holiday they take. Rather than looking at the number of days off each culture has, the blogger points out that over the course of a year, Americans average 34 hours per week, the French 28 hours and the Germans 26.

Third point: The wealthy in the US work longer hours, but still tend to work in daylight as opposed to cleaners and food delivery people who mostly work at night.

Why the differences? Taxation? Possibly. But the key point is made in the passive voice: ‘Another potential explanation is that a decline in trade union membership has weakened American workers’ bargaining power. Except that unionization rates in France and America are not far apart.’

Let’s take a look at that for a moment: What happened to the unions in the US shortly after the 1979 calculation? I’d point to Ronald Reagan’s firing of almost the entire membership of the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization rather than bargaining in good faith, given that he had supported the union during his campaign. This act alone signaled the death knell for unions in the United States.

The blogger distinguishes between unionization and policy. What isn’t spoken is how a well unionized country affects policy. Employers in underunionized countries also affect policy. Far more now than they used to. In the US, legislators financed by large employers have succeeded in gutting union power in a variety of areas. And they also succeed in breaking labor laws that protect the rights to unionize. So the question of who shapes policy goes unanswered.

I can’t speak for unionization rates in France, but labor in general speaks louder in Western Europe. Mandated holiday time of at least 20 days per year as a matter of national policy in most EU countries makes a big difference in that average number of hours worked.

Continuing through the blog, we get an assertion that ‘champions of workers’ rights have focused on raising the minimum wage (so far to little avail at the federal level)’. Again, begging the question as to WHY these efforts fail at the federal level. Might it have something to do with who is financing those who set the policy? I have a feeling that it might.

The writer then discusses the longer hours worked by the higher paid than the lower paid in the US. And this class of people discussed: cleaners and food delivery workers? Take a wild guess as to the areas of employment that are the least stable from the employee perspective? And which have unionization efforts stymied by both legal and illegal measures almost before such efforts have begun? Yeah, that would be those classes. It’s not that unionization rates have dropped simply through attrition or that the US minimum wage has stagnated through some kind of Adam Smithian invisible hand of the market. Those with money have made it higher to increase either one to the point of impossibility.